It was far from a sure thing that the Cleveland Cavaliers and
the Orlando Magic would meet in last season’s conference finals,
but a rematch to decide the East next month seems almost
Any playoff intensity in the burgeoning rivalry, however, may
have to wait.
LeBron James may be held out of a third straight game along with
teammates Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, but Orlando figures to go
full steam ahead Sunday afternoon as the East’s top two teams
conclude their regular-season series at Quicken Loans Arena.
The conference’s third seed heading into the 2009 playoffs, the
Magic (56-23) took out a Boston team that was without Kevin Garnett
before shocking the Cavaliers (61-19) in the Eastern finals.
They’ll enter the 2010 playoffs as heavy favorites to meet for
the conference title, and they’ve played three intense games so far
this season – two of which were won by Cleveland.
The top-seeded Cavaliers don’t have much to gain Sunday.
Cleveland clinched the league’s best record last weekend and after
beating Toronto on Tuesday, it has rested James in the past two
games. Mo Williams scored a season-high 35 points in a 109-108 loss
at Chicago on Thursday before he and Antawn Jamison (ankle) joined
James on the bench for a 116-113 home loss Friday against
Earlier this week, coach Mike Brown referred to the Cavaliers’
remaining schedule as “high-level practice.” Brown hasn’t ruled out
sitting James for the team’s final two games, and Williams and
Jamison could follow.
“There’s a chance,” Brown said. “I talked about that with my
staff and I talked about it a little bit with LeBron, too. We’ll
take that one game at a time and see how it goes.”
There’s at least a little more incentive for Orlando to play its
starters Sunday despite being locked into the East’s No. 2 seed.
The Magic and Los Angeles Lakers are tied for the league’s
second-best record, meaning home-court advantage is still up for
grabs should the teams meet again in the NBA finals.
After Dwight Howard and Vince Carter scored 25 points apiece in
a 118-103 win over the New York Knicks on Friday, Carter was busy
“This is really the first time in my career that I’ve worried
about home-court advantage throughout the whole thing,” Carter told
the Magic’s official Web site. “My thing is approach (the last
three games) the same way. If we win all the games, everything else
will fall into place.”
Coach Stan Van Gundy made his thoughts on resting his starters
“I don’t know what it gains you, quite honestly,” Van Gundy
said. “My question would be why? For what reason? These guys have
been playing all year. They get days off.
“I’d hate to be sitting there in the finals going, ‘You know
what? We would have had a shot at this if I didn’t rest so-and-so
for no damn reason.”
Howard averaged 25.8 points and 13.0 rebounds against Cleveland
in the East finals, but has been held to 17.3 points and 11.3
boards per game against Shaquille O’Neal and the Cavaliers this
It was initially thought that O’Neal, who’s been out since late
February with a sprained thumb, might return Sunday to get some
work before the playoffs, but Brown said that’s unlikely.
That leaves Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao – the same
duo the reigning Defensive Player of the Year dominated last spring
– to take their shots at guarding Howard.